It is an Indian tradition to greet each other with Namaskara. Namaskara or Namaste could be just a casual or formal greeting, a cultural convention or an act of worship with devotional and respectful mind.
What is Namaskara?
Namaskara is bowing down with clasped palms in front of a Deity, Brahmin, preceptor or an elder. While performing Namaskara we show our utter respect towards that person.
It is one of the parts of worship and also a part of Navavidha bhakti, nine aspects of devotion. It forms part of good conduct and an inculcation of good habits.
Synonyms of the word Namaskara
Namaskara is also known as Pranam, Pranati, Nati and Namana. All these synonyms including Namaskara have basic Sanskrit root ‘Nam’ which means ‘to bow down’. This action of ‘Nam’ is fundamental to the Namaskara.
Types of Namaskara
There are three types of Namaskara; Kayika, Vachika and Manasika.
Kayika is a type of Namaskara which is performed by the body. While performing this, one has to physically bow down and do Namaskara. In the next one, Vachika, one has to show the respect orally by wishing Namaskara. While in the third type, i.e. Manasika, one has to perform Namaskara by showing respect in the mind.
All the above three Namaskaras again have three different levels of performances each. These are namely Uttam (best one), Madhyam (better one) and Adhama (good one). Hence logically there are in all, nine types of Namaskaras.
Among all the Namaskaras, Kayika Namaskara is the best in mannerism and is also known as Sashtanga Namaskara.
Different types of Sashtanga Namaskara are as follows –
Performed by touching eight parts of body – two legs, two hands, two knees, chest and forehead – to the ground.
Bowing down with respectful mind and touching the legs of Deity or honorable person with one’s hands and placing the same on his/her eyes thereafter.
Just bowing down and touching the feet of Deity or honorable person.
Or last one by just clasping palms with a respectful mind.
Padou hastou januni dve urashchatha lalatakam
ashtangen sprushet bhumim sashtanga pranatishcha sa
In another verse Sashtanga Namaskara is mentioned as the Namaskara performed by touching the same eight body parts. But, here the mind speech and sight of the performer should also pay obeisance to the Deity or Saint.
The idea here is to perform the ritual holistically, i.e. from mind, body and soul.
Urasa shirasa drushtya manasa vachasa tatha
padbhyam karabhyam janubhyam pranamoshtanga uchyate
Why to perform Namaskara?
Respect and humility are two basic qualities of Namaskara. A person is obliged to do away with his ego while bowing down in front of a Deity or any honorable person.
A person might have other objectives behind performing Namaskara, for instance gaining spiritual and worldly benefits. While doing Namaskara to revered persons, unknowingly their virtues and capabilities are impressed upon our minds. Consequently we start emulating them, thus changing ourselves for better and the best.
To whom should we Namaskara?
A greeting is for all – people younger than us, of our own age, those older than us, friends and even strangers. But Namaskara – a respectful greeting – especially should be done to Deities, Brahmins, elders, preceptors and honorable people. Not performing Namaskara to them is considered sinful as per the Hindu Vedic rites.
Devam vipram gurum drushtva na named yastu sambhramat
sa kalasautram vrajati yavachchandradivakarou
Brahmanam cha gurum drushtva na named yo naradhamah yavajjivanaparyantamashuchiryavano bhavet
(The one forgets to salute a Deity, Brahmin and preceptor, he goes to hell namely yavachchandradivakarou kalasutra. The person who does not salute a Brahmin and preceptor, he becomes impure and goes to the low caste.)
Which type of Namaskara should be performed?
Shashtanga Namaskara should be performed to Deities, preceptors, sages and other such personalities. If the offering of Shashtanga is not possible then one should bend down and touch the feet of honorable person by hand and should place those hands again to his or her eyes.
Many venerable people become uncomfortable with others touching their feet; to such people one should just bow down by clasping the palms with each other.
The same rule applies while doing Namaskara to the people of same age. It is also believed that one should never bow down to the younger ones.
Ajakarnena vidvansam yatim samputapanina
murkham chaivekahastena kanishtham nabhivadayet
(One should do Namaskara to the learned by folding hands like the ears of goat, just by placing palms on each other to Yati, to a fool by showing one hand, and one should never do Namaskara to younger ones.)
What thoughts should be there while doing Namaskara?
As said, showing respect or gratitude is fundamental to Namaskara. While doing Namaskara, one should think, ‘You are superior to me; I am the subordinate. I do not know anything, you are omniscient’, only then does it help in reducing ego and increasing the humility within the person.
While doing Namaskara thoughts like ‘I do not know anything’, ‘You alone get everything done’, ‘Grant me a place at Your Holy Feet’ should come to mind, only then does it help in increasing the spiritual emotion of surrender and gratitude.
What do we obtain from Namaskara?
We receive the highest amount of sattva component from the posture (mudra) of Namaskara. The points of both the palms come close to each other and lead to a good blood circulation.
By doing Namaskara to Deities or Saints we receive subtle frequencies emitted by them, e.g. frequencies of sattva or bliss. By doing Namaskara to Deities or Saints we also receive their blessings in a subtle form.
Namaskara as a formal greeting
Namaskara is also performed as a formal greeting. It shows good manners in the society. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship with love and humility. The gesture is often accompanied by words like ‘Ram Ram’, ‘Jai Shri Krishna’, ‘Namo Narayana’, ‘Jai Siya Ram’, ‘Om Shanti’ etc – indicating the recognition of the divinity.
Namaskara to the wooden footwear (paduka) of Saints
At many temples dedicated to saints, their padukas are kept for worship. Such a form of worship ranks very high in devotion. Usually people do Namaskara to those padukas. When Namaskara is done by placing head on the ‘pegs’ of the paduka, some people may experience distress due to their inability to tolerate the manifest energy emitting from it. Hence, while doing Namaskara to the paduka, instead of the pegs, one should place the head on the foremost part i.e. the place where the Saints place their toes.